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Otter on liquor privatization: ‘Not as long as I’m governor’

It seemed fitting that when Gov. Butch Otter spoke to the annual convention of the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association yesterday, the meeting was in the “Characters” lounge at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The first question the group had for the governor: Whether he’d support privatizing liquor sales in Idaho, as Washington did – the first state with state-controlled liquor sales to move to a privatized system. Otter talked about how Idaho liquor stores have profited from cross-border sales since Washington’s move, because of price differences as that state saw liquor prices rise. “Some of these other states … are dealing themselves a bad hand because they try hard to be progressive,” Otter said. “Not as long as I’m governor – that ain’t gonna change.” His comment drew a quick burst of applause and laughter from the group, which represents bar operators.

The association opposes privatization; its official stance, from its website: “ILBA opposes privatization.  We believe that the quota system is a system that works for Idaho and we find it unnecessary to have liquor on shelves in grocery stores where it would be easily accessible to children.”

There was less agreement on some of the other issues on which the group queried the guv. When one member asked why the state didn’t order counties to charge uniform property taxes, Otter responded, “That’s not going to work.” He noted that Idaho counties have widely varying property values, and thus raise different amounts from their property tax levies. “I’m not one that’s going to tell every county, all 44 counties, you oughta charge the same amount,” he said. “That’s up to the county commissioners.”

He also rejected a suggestion that Idaho should follow Oregon and Montana in allowing video poker in its bars; and had no answer on how to help holders of highly valued state liquor licenses retain their value. Otter noted that he proposed reforms to the liquor license system several years ago, but they were rejected. “You didn’t like the answer I had then, so you guys figure it out,” he said. “Somebody’s got to come up with an idea.”

Sunday spin: Initiative predictions usually wrong

Opponents of two proposed charter changes for Spokane won their fight to keep the initiatives away from voters when Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno on Friday barred them from the November ballot.

Cue the huge sighs of relief from the home builders and various nice-sounding organizations fronting for local businesses. The groups insisted the two proposals were illegal and “if enacted they would have cause serious harm to Spokane and our economy,” Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the home builders said shortly after Moreno ruled.

An appeal is possible, so this might be hashed out for months. But if anything is certain about initiatives it is their very uncertainty. Dire predictions by opponents of what a particular ballot measure will do are almost always off target. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Liquor sales up in July

OLYMPIA — After dropping during the first month of private liquor sales, the amount of liquor sold and the taxes the state got for it went up in July.

The state Revenue Department said sales were up about 15 percent this July compared with July 2011, and sales for the second quarter of this year are up about 11 percent over last.

Liquor sales took a big jump in May as the deadline imposed by Initiative 1183 for switching from the state monopoly to private sales approached. Bars and restaurants in particular stocked up against the coming change.

Sales dropped about 9 percent in June, the first month the law  took effect, compared to the previous June.

In all, Washington consumers bought 10.6 million liters of spirits for the second quarter, an increase of about 1.2 million liters. (For folks who don't do “metric”, that's about 2.8 million gallons total and an increase of about 317,000 gallons.)

The state also collected $68 million in taxes and fees on liquor, an increase of about 15 percent. Prices were higher in July than in pre I-1183 days, but they did come down sligthly from June.

It's too soon to tell what kind of trend we're developing, the Revenue Department said.

I-1183 boosts liquor sales — in Idaho

Washington voters probably didn’t intend it, but they gave at least a temporary economic boost to Idaho liquor stores when taking their state out the booze business last year by passing Initiative 1183.
In June, the first month that I-1183 closed Washington’s state-owned liquor stores and raised the overall price of distilled spirits in the private outlets that took their place, Idaho state liquor stores just across the border saw more Evergreen State license plates in their parking lots and a jump in business.
The two Post Falls liquor stores saw a 58 percent increase in sales for June 2012 compared to the previous June, said Jeff Anderson, director of the Idaho State Liquor Division. Between Lewiston and Oldtown, the eight Idaho liquor stores just across the border are up 33 percent overall, or a total of $560,000.
“The numbers are a bit skewed,” Anderson said . . .

To read the rest of this story, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Links to the court ruling on I-1183

OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court upheld Initiative 1183, a.k.a. get the state out of the booze business, on a 5-4 vote. (Here's a link to today's story.)

Or maybe it's better described a 5-3-1 vote, because Justice Tom Chambers disagreed with the majority on some points, but agreed with them on others.

For those who were worried that the court was going to throw a monkey wrench in plans to rush to your favorite discount store and stock up on cheap booze, here's the reason why the changeover to private liquor stores will proceed on schedule:

Justice Steven Gonzalez's majority opinion, signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen and Justices Susan Owens, James Johnson and Debra Stephens,  can be found here.

Justice Charlie Wiggins' dissent, signed by Justices Charles Johnson and Mary Fairhurst, can be found here.

Justice Chambers' half and half, where he agrees that voters might've been hoodwinked by calling taxes fees, but agrees with the majority on some other things, can be found here.

As always, feel free to comment on what you think about I-1183, or the court's decision, by clicking here.

Liquor store licenses awarded

OLYMPIA — The rights to operate Washington's state-owned liquor stores have all been auctioned off, at prices ranging from about $750,000 for a store in Tacoma to just under $50,000 for a store in Spokane.  The state will collect $30.7 million from the auction.

The state closed the auction Friday after a flurry of last-minute bids for the rights to the licenses at 167 stores, and winning bids were announced this morning. The state owns the license, but not the buildings they occupy. New owners will have to negotiate leases with landlords and purchase inventory. If they can't come to a deal on a lease, they can re-sell their license or relocate within a mile of the current location.

Winning bids for two Spokane-area stores went to Ranvir Nagra of Veradale. The other Spokane-area stores went to bidders who didn't receive any other licenses in the county.

The liquor store at 2401 W. Wellesley drew the smallest bid in the state, at $49,600, and the store in the Manito Shopping Center at 3017 S. Grand was second at $50,100. Top bid for a Spokane-area store was $300,100 for the Spokane Valley store at University City.

The state auctioned the licenses to its liquor stores because voters approved Initiative 1183 last November, which gets the state out of wholesale and retail liquor operations. Under the initiative, most private liquor stores will have to have at least 10,000 square feet of floor space, but the owner of a license from a former state store can operate in a smaller facility.

No surprise: Liquor initiative makes the ballot

OLYMPIA — An initiative to turn wholesale and retail liquor sales over to the private sector qualified for the ballot, state elections officials said Wednesday.

Initiative 1183, sometimes called the Costco initiative because the discount retailer is among its most ardent supporters, passed a random check of its petitions, David Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Sam Reed said.

It joins I-1125, which would limit tolls and fees on roads, bridges and ferries. Elections officials begin a spot check of petitions Thursday on a third initiative, I-1163 which would require training and background checks for home health care workers.

All three initiatives submitted enough signatures that they were likely to qualify for the ballot.

Liquor sales growing in Idaho

Idaho State Liquor Division director Jeff Anderson tells legislative budget writers Friday that liquor sales continue to grow despite the down economy; he called state-run liquor sales “a very stable revenue stream” for the state.

BOISE - One thing still growing in these tough economic times in Idaho: Liquor sales.

“We’ve experienced growth in spite of the negative economic environment that we’ve been operating in,” Idaho state liquor division Director Jeff Anderson told legislative budget writers this morning.

The division turned over a record $47.2 million in net proceeds to the state in fiscal year 2010; most of that went to the state general fund, cities and counties, with slices going to courts, substance abuse treatment, community colleges and substance abuse treatment. “It’s a very stable revenue stream,” Anderson said.  Betsy Z Russell, SR

To what do you attribute this continued growth?

Initiatives Put Liquor Sales On Ballot

Item: Initiatives would close Washington state liquor stores: Two measures privatizing spirits sales likely to go on Nov. 2 ballot/Jim Camden, Spokesman-Review

More Info: Washington state’s continued control of liquor sales may be in doubt. Sponsors of one ballot measure to turn the sale of all liquor over to private stores, Initiative 1100, say they will turn in nearly 350,000 signatures today, a number that practically guarantees the proposal will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Question: If Idaho voters were given the chance to decide the matter at the polls, do you think they’d vote to privatize liquor sales?

New initiatives would privatize liquor sales, outlaw martial arts weapons

OLYMPIA — Another initiative to privatize the state’s liquor business is being proposed. A group calling itself Washington Citizens for Liquor Reform filed a measure to get the state out of the liquor business but to continue to raise money from it through a percentage of the booze sold.

Also looking to give voters a chance to pass a new law is the North American Self-defense Association, which has one proposal to outlaw all martial arts weapons at schools and colleges, and another that would mandate “abduction prevention training” as part of physical education courses at public schools.

Both groups face rather daunting math for getting their proposals on the ballot.

There are less than 60 days left before the July 2 deadline for turning in signatures, and while the state requires about 242,000 valid signatures, most drives shoot for 300,000 to allow for a certain number of invalidated signers.

Even if sponsors can get the language of the initiatives checked and petitions printed by the middle of the month, they’ll have, at best, 45 days for a signature drive.That means they’ll need to collect about 6,700 signatures a day. That’s 277 an hour or 5 a minute.

“It’s a heavy lift,” said Charla Neuman, a spokeswoman for the liquor sales initiative. They’ll have paid signature gatherers because “in that amount of time, there’s no other way to do it.”

One complicating factor on liquor sales is there are two other initiatives aimed at getting the state out of the liquor stor business. The biggest difference, Neuman said, is that this proposal  ties the fee for the license to a store’s sales, rather than charging a flat rate for a license. So the more a store sells, the more the state makes.

Jim Curtis of the self-defense association, said they will rely strictly on volunteers for what he concedes is “a big push.” He has contacts with veterans groups, the self-defense and martial arts groups, and hopes to enlist some civic groups. Curtis said he has tried to interest legislators in bills that would do the same thing, but has received “the cold shoulder.”

To see all the initiatives to the people proposed thus for this year, click here to go to the Secretary of State’s website.